Genre fiction by such authors as Colleen Hoover, N.K. Jemisin, and Rebecca Roanhorse remain extremely popular, and publishers have been increasing their output to meet the demand in recent years for romance, horror, mystery, science fiction, and fantasy titles.
BrocheAroe Fabian, who lives in Wisconsin and owns the online bookstore River Dog Book Co., is also a marketing consultant and manager at Sourcebooks, which has moved aggressively into publishing genre fiction in recent years. Emphasizing that she pays close attention to literary trends, Fabian pointed out that genre fiction has always had its readers, particularly since such stories “have been inclusive for a long time.” She added, “If you wanted to read diverse books, you read genre fiction.”
Fabian connects the growing interest in genre fiction to the success of literary thrillers like Gone Girl and The Woman in the Window, and said that the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have also inspired readers to “reclaim” romance tales—with steamy story lines featuring consenting adults rather than the bodice rippers of yore with their lusty heroes and reluctant heroines.
While general fiction at Maria’s Bookshop in Durango, Colo., grew by 7% in the first half of 2023 over the same period in 2022—after what adult book buyer Jeanne Costello described as two “awesome” years in 2021 and 2022—genre fiction continues to post bigger gains, including a 23% sales increase in mysteries, 26% in SFF, 36% in horror, and 64% in romance. “Art rises to the times we are living in,” Costello noted. “The past several years have dealt us some overwhelming problems, from the pandemic to extreme weather and deep political and cultural clashes. Romance and mystery allow us to process emotions and solve problems that elude us in our real lives. Horror helps to process trauma, and science fiction/fantasy can build worlds that can offer hope, featuring heroes and worlds that are saved in the end.”
While the largest book club at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, N.C., is devoted to SFF, romance is “by far” the store’s fastest-growing section, assistant manager Christy O’Connor said, with romance inventory expanding from four shelves to 16 in 2022. In contrast, sales of mysteries and thrillers declined during the same period. The reason for this, O’Connor speculated, is that mysteries and thrillers “may hit just a little too close to home for our customers.” Readers may be moving toward romance because “the world is a rough place right now,” and romance novels, with their all-but-guaranteed happy endings, satisfy people’s desire to escape “into a world that looks nothing like ours.”
Ross Lockhart of Word Horde Emporium of the Weird & Fantastic in Petaluma, Calif., said that after publishing horror fiction since 2013, he was prompted to open a specialty bookstore on Halloween in 2021. He believes that genre fiction is hot because the quality of the writing is “stronger today than it ever has been, and the field is more varied and diverse than ever.” In contrast to O’Connor, Lockhart maintained that horror has been a big draw for his customers because it feeds “escapism born from a sense that things could be terribly worse.”
At Tubby & Coo’s Bookstore in New Orleans, owner Candice Huber reported that sales are rising at their store, which specializes in genre fiction, as well as LGBTQ titles. While fantasy is currently the biggest draw for Tubby’s customers, romance and horror always have been hot—so much so that several years ago Huber added two more shelves to each category. Like Lockhart, Huber said they think the quality of writing is “the best it’s ever been.” But, they added, pop culture has greatly contributed to its popularity.
“Nerd culture has become more and more mainstream over the years,” Huber explained. “Also, particularly since the Trump administration and the pandemic, people more and more people want to escape reality—which is understandable.”